Sunday, March 31, 2013

The chicks are coming! The chicks are coming!

As I was riding in the car on the way to church this morning, I got the expected phone call from the central Postal facility for the county where we live.  As soon as I heard who was calling I said, "Just send them on to the township office tomorrow morning, please."  The postal worker laughed, and told me he would.  So I'm off to prep the chick brooder this evening.

The bees have been fed.  I spent a few minutes with my nose up to the hive entrance afterward, just watching them come in, with so much of that pale yellow pollen, it looked like giant flakes against their bodies, not just balls at their knees.  And sometimes they were covered in so much of it that they didn't match the bees leaving the hive at all, colorwise.

Also, I've cleaned out the dirty ducks bins, again, and I have one empty left for the chicks arriving tomorrow morning.  Unfortunately, we used the other two to hold dirt while double digging the hugelkultur bed, and getting the logs into it, along with all the bedding from the little coop where the ducks will go later this week (I hope).  The dirty ducks sure are LOUD.  And one of them has learned how to quack.  The rest are still peeping and cheeping.

Easter Sunday

Today, because it is Easter and we always do this on Easter, we took a long walk in the park.  The Pirate took a notebook, which she later wished was her "Nature Journal," but we convinced her she could tear the pages out and paste them into the Nature Journal when she got home.  I am just so pleased she thought of journaling our walk all on her own.  She periodically stopped to draw pictures, and to ask for a spelling for something (I forget what).  For the little kid who hated anything to do with the physical act of writing for so long, I am just thrilled she has changed her mind and decided she likes it.  Even if she still spells nearly everything funetiklee.  She counted and recorded the number of beech trees, drew her hand over a large leaf for a size comparison, drew the creek and wrote about how she liked its sparkling in the sunlight, and she went on for a page about the carpet of leaves on the path.  The Princess used her iPod to photograph whatever struck her fancy... the dog, us, the two Sandhill Cranes we saw, and she made a movie of the path itself for awhile.  She thought it would be funny to speed it up so it would look like she was running down the path.  I took pics of the girls, El Jefe, the dog by default (they insisted), and the weird maze left by insects (some kind of borer?) on the surface of a fallen log after the bark has fallen away.  It was a Happy Easter.  Even if I did forget to color the eggs.  Again.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Chicken Myths...

I learned something new about chickens today.  Since we ate the last roos, we are down to 11 laying hens.  The TopHats seem to be adjusting to living in BigChickenCity, instead of Chicken Ghetto.  They still won't take anything direct from my hand, but they always were flighty.  However, I noticed today that the (black) Blue Andalusian hen had grown some serious SPURS.  Sharp, wicked looking spurs.  I thought, uh?  what?  Is this a transgender chicken?  Turns out that Andalusian hens are known for the occasional spur, particularly in a roo-less flock, and particularly if they are a dominant bird.  Well, they are suddenly roo-less, but I would not have pegged her for a dominant position in the pecking order, because she didn't usually hang out on the top roost.  She DID, however, hang out with Lucky the (late) Rooster, usually next to him in fact.  So perhaps I should get a clue.  Anyway, she still eats out of my hand, though she is usually the fifth or sixth bird to do so, rather than the first or second.

A Lovely Day to Be a Bee

Despite the fact that the internet claimed the temp was only 50 degrees F, the honeybees were making hay while the sun was shining, bringing in loads of a pale yellow pollen that I do not recognize.  What blooms here in March besides dead nettle and crocuses?  (and yes, the bees were on the crocuses, but that pollen is not pale yellow, nor are my 7-8 blooms nearly enough for the hundreds of busy bees returning to the hive with their baskets full).  It is supposed to be even warmer tomorrow, and I am contemplating a quick peek in the hive at the hottest part of the day, so I can lay some feed on the top bars.  On the other hand, I don't want to mess with something that seems to be working.  I know better than to trust this bit of Spring we are having, though, since it always snows in April at least once (and generally when I'm trying to install new beehives).  It would break my little heart if they starved at this point, since they are working so hard to survive...

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sugar Solution

I went down to Dadant to get the two new unassembled beehives for the swarms arriving next month and found the answer to a question that has been bothering me for some time.  I can a lot.  Particularly jams and chutneys and pickles... all foods which need sugar.  What would I do if sugar were unavailable?  I have a few recipes where honey can substitute for sugar (just cook it a slightly lower temp, since it burns easier)... so the obvious answer would be to substitute honey for the sugar in the canning recipes, but it is not a 1:1 relationship, and I am risk-averse when it comes to meddling with canning recipes (that whole botulism thing scares me), so I wasn't going to just make  it up on the fly.  While I was standing in line (!?! on a weekday!?! at Dadant!?!), I flipped through their catalog and found the books section, and found the solution to my problem...Putting it up with Honey by Susann Geiskopf-Hadler... a natural foods canning cookbook with 207 recipes for preserving foods without using sugar or harmful preservatives.  It's a good size book for only $14.95, full of recipes for jams, jellies,  butters, preserves, conserves, marmalades, canned fruits, hot sauces, juices, sauces, chutney, pickles, vinegars, pickled fruits, relishes, and even a chapter on drying fruits.  This just thrills my little heart, and I'll be posting about it again as I try out the recipes, once berry season starts.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Never go to TSC alone in the spring...

Because you might come home with 15 ducklings.  Between my love for roast duck, and my love for a good deal, that is what I did.  TSC was expecting another delivery of chicks, and had rather too many unsold ducks, so they said I could have all 15 in the bin for $5.  They were 9 days old Pekins.  With a feed conversion ratio of 1# gain for 2.5# feed, and a slaughter date 6-10 weeks from now, at 7# (the range depends on whether they are confined with food constantly available, or free-ranged), I could hardly say "No!" to that.  Of course the darn things are so cute the kids want to keep a couple.  If I allow that, they can have the little coop after the Red Rangers are in the freezer.  I think between the ducks and the meat chickens and two more hives of bees and the expanded garden, we'll wait to add the pigs 'til next year.  I've got enough on my plate (pun intended!).

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The magic number...54

You thought I was going to say 42, didn't you?  Well, the meaning of life is actually 54 where honeybees are concerned.  54 degrees F, that is.  That's the temp it has to be for them to come flying out of the hive.  We hit that today, and the Pirate accused one of the honeybees of stalking her around the house.  A few others came by while we were butchering Drunken Chicken, the mean rooster who was too hard on the hens.  He is parted out and in the fridge, waiting to become Chicken Dumplings tomorrow, and the rest of him is in the pot right now, well on its way to becoming chicken stock.  Which smells fantastic, I must add.  We're going to eat at least two of the other three roosters, too, because I've got two new rooster chicks coming in April, and want their bloodlines in my flock, rather than what I've got now... I need chickens with smaller combs, so I don't have to deal with their getting frostbite.  I hope we've seen the last of weather cold enough to cause that this year.  I'm impatient for spring.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Me-n-the-Hens in the Hoophouse

Yesterday, I did more planting  in the hoop house.  Four square feet each of sweet and storage onions, and a four foot row of bush peas.  I also got everything watered that I had seeded earlier in the week... that would be cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, lettuce, spinach, vit, New Zealand spinach, orach, purslane (garden and golden), miner's lettuce, carrots, minutina, rattail radish, white icicle radish and zlata radish.  I specify seeded, because I still have started cabbage and cauliflower in the kitchen to plant.  The plants in the kitchen did not do well, because I set them on the heat pad, and they got too warm and grew leggy.  It wasn't the light, because I had them two inches below the plant light which was on 14+ hours most days.

I'm not sure I should have seeded all that in the hoop house quite this early, but it was mighty warm in there, (I was sweating in a short sleeved shirt and jeans), so I thought I'd give it a go.  I'll be seeding all those plants outside in April and May, too, to see where they grow best.

On my way to the hoop house, I grabbed Golden Claw (the Buff Rock hen) and three of her companions-in-corn-and-crime followed along.  She wasn't happy about being picked up, but was thrilled to take a dust bath (actually many dust baths) in the hoop house, with breaks for weed and bug tasting, while I worked.  Eventually El Jefe showed up for a breather from hauling wood on the sled to the house.  Then the kids stopped by to watch the fun.  The Pirate thought she would pay for the hens day at the spa by weeding, which I found highly amusing.  I admit I encouraged that.  The Princess actually did more weeding than anyone, while chuffing at the hens who kept kicking up dust in her direction.  I did take pics of the hens, which I'll try to post here tomorrow.  And I'll have to get some of the freshly planted beds.

Oh, last but not least, the garlic is up!  I didn't get it in the ground 'til REALLY late, because I quite forgot I had it (yes, my memory is that bad), but it seems to be doing fine now - 3 inches tall and quite green.  It was all Polish softneck.  I'll replant that outside this fall, but I still have to decide where.  And where to put the Music hardneck, then, too.